Thursday, April 30, 2009

What makes you happy?


This age old question is doing it's share of popping into conversations and blogs these days. And I am aware that happiness is certainly personal and dynamic. But my husband, who is currently reading "The Ascent of Money" by Niall Ferguson, read a few passages about the paradox of why the people living in the safest country in the world are also the most insured. Ferguson also discusses when English-speaking people began to be obsessed with buying and selling of houses. Both very interesting, and directly related to happiness, I think.

First of all, it has only been in the last few decades that people began to believe that they must own a house to be happy. Before that, people often rented their entire lives, often living in the same place. See New York City. People in Switzerland often never pay off their homes, just passing the mortgage on in their wills to their family. But our country feels that you are just not complete without the "American Dream". With that comes taxes, insurance, upkeep, etc. You are tied to that house and mortgage. And you are tied to that exact location. Believe me, I know what it is like to have a big house on the market during down times. Our last one had three people come through (other than the lookie-lous that came through during the "open house" phase), in 100 days. It was a beautiful home, in a beautiful location. But it was outside the Twin Cities area, and gas was starting to sky rocket. It was not looking good. We lucked out with a man that walked through, loved it, bought it for cash (for his summer home - the rest of the time he lived on a horse ranch in Texas), no contingencies! Great luck. But I can see a very different scenario if we were still there. What I'm trying to get to, is why do people feel compelled to own something that will take so much of their income that it will cause anxiety if circumstances change? Losing your down payment, not to mention your equity, on a house you can no longer afford is a crushing blow. But millions are going through this right now. 

Now for insurance. We have to insure everything. Yesterday the person at the checkout counter at a local sport shop wanted my husband to insure his new running shoes for a year. My husband laughed and declined, saying he would not use them for a year. He believes in good running shoes and only uses them a few months - but that's another story. The point is we have to own all this stuff and then insure it. How much of our lives, and money, is just taking care of our stuff? I have always disagreed with friends that bought houses for their children to live in while attending college. Why would you tie your children down to a house during the only free time of their lives? The fun is moving from place to place, fixing it up and making it your home. Lots of good stuff comes from that. Yet the first thing many do is help their children buy a home after graduation. Thus ensuring they will be right there, for a long time. What if they wanted to travel and see the world? Or work overseas? Or take a job across the country? Get a second degree or work in another field that may pay less? Experience life? 

So, I guess I would pose the question - do we really think about what makes us happy? Really looking at what makes our day? Or do we assume our happiness must look like a programed set of values that may or may not fit what we actually like to do? And why do we have to own everything? Does it make us happier?


49 comments:

Andrea said...

My house is not what makes me happy. It's a small, neat little townhome - just enough for us. It's the people and the four-legged animal inside the house that does it for me. I'm finding out, now that the times are monetarily tough, that happiness has nothing to do with having "things."

MzzLily said...

Yes, I have to own things... A car - to visit my friends and family;
A home - to allow friends and family to visit; A laptop - to keep in touch with all my friends and family and to express myself. Fortunately, the friends and family are free!

California Girl said...

All I can say is, we live in a gorgeous house with a view to die for and a mortgage to die with and all we can think about is how to get out of it. We've always owned our homes, eight in all, and we no longer see the wisdom of it. Too much money down the drain and we're exhausted by the upkeep probably because we're in our fifties and tired. As for what makes me happy?

PEACE AND QUIET!

Lover of Life said...

Andrea - Sounds perfect. I feel the same way about "things". I really like my things, but it's the connections to friends, family, blogging friends, etc., that makes me happy.

Mzz - Yes, I want all those things too, but I think I could have them, and some freedom to do other things in life, if I didn't own a home. I guess what I am challenging, is the assumption that everyone needs to buy a home, instead of using their resources for other experiences.

Lover of Life said...

California - Yep. Exactly!

Butternut Squash said...

Right now we are renting rather than owning because we needed to make a short term move. I love, the little log cabin and the miniature donkeys. But it isn't ours, we are just passing through. Rent money is gone forever, you have nothing to sell, nothing to borrow against in an emergency. The rent for our cabin is slightly more than our former mortgage payment and the house is smaller. I don't think owning a home is the problem, it is owning a home that is beyond one's means that creates the distress.

TheChicGeek said...

Very thought provoking post. I have known very wealthy people who are extremely unhappy. Often times the things we have simply burden us.
The things that truly make us happy, deep down in our heart and soul don't cost us. I love surprises, flowers, nature, family, friends, my animals....gosh, so many things that make me happy. I think we all want security and owning a home does give us that. I think when people buy too many or too much then it becomes a burden. It is a fine line to walk. Ultimately, if we were to die tomorrow, I don't think we will be thinking of things, we will be thinking about the love in our life, family, friends, God, the truly most important things.
Thank you for such a lovely post!
Have a Happy Day :D

Jeninacide said...

I wish we did not own our house. It's supposed to be an INVESTMENT.. and I suppose it is a good one, as long as you plan to stay in once place. It is Erick's JOB that keeps us in one area though- not our house. I would like to sell it and get the hell out from under the responsibility!

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Creating...that's what drives me...and makes me happy! Great thoughts! Thanks for making us think!

Lover of Life said...

Butternut - Good point. We all want to have something we can own, but it needs to be affordable. You also made a good point for renting - you were expecting to move so you didn't buy. I guess that is where I'm coming from - if you are not ready to settle down in one place - why buy? Why not rent? And why not wait until you're a little older?

Chic - Very good point. If you were to die tomorrow you wouldn't be thinking of things.

Expat From Hell said...

I've owned homes in California and Texas, and lived in three other countries in between. Ownership of anything doesn't float the boat; it is being around good people - be they friends, family, types that make you think, make you feel, make you try something more. I don't care where that is, but I am willing to go there!

Lover of Life said...

Jenin - Welcome to adulthood.

Sniffles - Creating makes you happy, and so many more of us. Making a living sometimes throws a wrench in it, doesn't it?

ExPat - We actually found that living back in a place close to where we lived for 50 years has been nice. Dear friends and family are nearby, and we feel comfortable here. So I guess I would have to say that being near these people helps us to be happy right now. That could change in the future, as our children live in another state. But following them around could prove risky, unless we really wanted to live there.

Alicia @ boylerpf said...

I am in agreement with you on so many points. After living in NY for many years...virtually impossible to won a home for the price...we moved to Miami. Again..a rental situation. We enjoy being vagabonds of sorts and moving to different places. A home ties you down...a house does NOT make a home..just deeper in debt. Buying things for kids with such responsibility only leads to them expecting things given to them instead of earning them. Insurance...I won't even go there!!!

Star said...

We wanted to own a house so that when we both died, we could leave it to be shared amongst the three of them. However, it does make you wonder if it is worth it, when they go off and live their own lives and don't seem very connected to the parents any more!
Blessings, Star

Phoebe Miriah Kirby said...

My great Aunt told my husband and I to start saving %10 to %15 of our income for a house in our future. I sort of laughed and told her it was a good idea, when in reality, I don't want to own a house. I think renting is so much easier and less expensive. The only downfall of renting is not being able to paint my kitchen maroon or flowers on my patio railing. :)
But I can live without that.
Happiness is inside of your heart and in the people that we love. Sometimes we all lose sight of that.

Phoebe Miriah Kirby said...

I forgot to mention, HOLY COW! I'm nineteen-years-old and I don't think my mother would even buy me a pair of high heels that weren't in the clearance bin at Wal-Mart!

Lover of Life said...

Alicia - At least when you want to move you don't have to go through the trauma of selling a house. You can just go. I think you have it right.

Star - I have rethought the whole "acquiring something to pass down thing" a few years ago. I thought I should pass down some jewelry to my two daughters. Then, I realized, they really don't like my taste, or they don't wear much jewelry. So, if I didn't really want it - and they probably really wouldn't want it - why was I buying it?

Phoebe - Why not paint it maroon? Just paint it white when you leave. And you can buy those planters now that hang on your railing that you can take with you. I guess what I am thinking is that you can make your home in a rental - just take care of it like it was your own. But if you want to leave - no problem, just go. You are not risking a lot of hard-earned money if you can't sell it. I agree with the saving of 10-15% of your income. We have tried to instill that in our daughters as well. We call it "rainy day money". And boy are we having some rainy days!

Park Ave. Pigeon said...

My husband and i live in a studio in NYC, its the size of a 2 car garage! We love it! I don't think we'll ever OWN. No desire to! Such FREEDOM. Isn't that what we're seeking? Freedom!?

Elizabeth Bradley said...

I bought my first house, on my own, at nineteen. I love houses! I love having my own home that I can fix up any old way I wish. I've lived in 2 apartments before buying my little house and I found it depressing. My grown children are all renters, (in so. California, even with the market crash, owning a home is out of reach for young people)

Since owning a home is one of the few write-offs left to us, it makes good economic sense to buy one, IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT.

My husband and I are looking to downsize, since only my 18 year old son is still at home and we don't need our 5 bedroom house any longer.

I am thinking to simplify, simplify, simplify. Great subject!

Rain said...

Happiness to me is simple, it is knowing what I want in my life - and more importantly what I don't want.

But on the subject of home ownership, I'm renting too right now and I've had it! I've been renting for 24 years and my experience with landlords is not good, I'm tired of fighting for a decent place to live. I want to be my own landlord! Also, I don't have the freedom to decorate and landscape the way I would like to. Little things like that, personalizing my own home is a source of great joy to me, and I don't mean fancy expensive furniture and decor...little touches that make my home a cocoon of peace and joy.

ellen abbott said...

Thought provoking and pertinent. My chosen lifestyle, a self employed artist, did not allow for extravagant spending. The hardest thing for me to get over was envy. And then one day I realized that all those people who had all that state of the art stuff were all stressed out with the bills, insurance and fear of being robbed. I adopted the less is more philosophy and it was so freeing. We do own two homes, we own them both outright but neither is big and showy. What has made me happy in my life is a partner that I trust and is devoted to me and I to him, my children and grandchildren living and being close and being master of my time and fate. And living in the now.

Missy said...

We've been downsizing for years-some by choice and some by necessity, but either way, the less stuff we have, the less energy is spent taking care of it. If and when the housing market recovers we want to sell our house and move to a townhome where we don't have to do the yard work. I don't think a month goes by that I don't try to get rid of more stuff.

Cubil said...

I quit thinking about happiness long ago. I am interested in satisfaction. I know it when I have it.

Nina Knox said...

I agree with Cal. Girl - Peace and Quiet makes me happy. Probably because it's so rare. Also agree that it's family and friends that make me happy, too.

Natalie said...

I love the security of owning a house. I LOVE that feeling. I moved around a ridiculous amount when I was young, and I actually crave the roots that home owning affords me.
I agree however, with all you say, and there may well be a time in the future when I would like to be fancy free again.No shackles, free as a bird.xx♥

Reya Mellicker said...

This is a great post - fantastic comments, too.

I have never owned property. Part of the reason has to do with my terrible inability to make money, part of it is because I am not handy. Renting has worked well for me because when something breaks, the landlord fixes it.

There are stereotypes of renters as people who don't care about property, but in my experience, it's the property owners who let their rental properties go to hell.

My roommate (landlord) is a fantastic, decent, lovely person. I am clean and respectful of the space. It works very well for me.

How old school am I??

Kathy's Klothesline said...

I enjoy home ownership and all of the responsibility that goes along with it. It made me extremely happy to rebuild my cabinets today. My garden brings me joy, too. I am just a homebody at heart, though. and wouldn't life be boring if we were all the same?

Kathy G said...

I've never NOT owned a house. When I got married DH and I moved into his mom's house, because she had to move out of state to tend to her mother. We've since bought two (different) houses of our own. Both of them were well within our means.

I think it might be kind of exciting to rent; someone else takes care of the upkeep and there are no taxes to pay. However, I've heard horror stories of people whose rent skyrocketed from one lease to another. At least with a house payment you know what you're getting.

I've never had an expectation that my boys will live near us, and two of the three have settled in other cities. It would be nice if they were closer, but I'm sure they're making memories of their own.

Lover of Life said...

Phoebe - LOL! I think they bought their college students houses to avoid paying rent during those years. And with housing prices going up, they used them as an investment. But I still think those years should be about not being responsible for a house.

Park Ave - There is a lot to be said for freedom - especially if you are young and want to be free to follow experiences.

Elizabeth - We downsized with the last move - and I have always loved owning homes, too. But after selling three in five years, I'm done with buying and selling. I think if my husband takes a job somewhere other than here - and that is very probable - we will lease.

Rain - It sounds like you are ready to buy and stay put - every reason to own your own home.

Ellen - You have the best of both worlds. You own your homes (security) but feel free to move on. It sounds like your husband is a wonderful source of happiness. (So is mine.)

Missy - I am down to only wanting those things around me that really bring me pleasure or are useful, too.

Lover of Life said...

Cubil - You sound like you know what makes you happy.

Nina - I'm with you both.

Natalie - You have young children, and that is the time you really want a home to call your own. I still want a home to call my own, it's just a smaller, simpler version, so I can have freedom, too! (Spoiled, huh?)

Reya - You're a free spirit! And look at the experiences you have had with the different places you have lived?

Kathy - I'm a homebody at heart, too. But I hope my youngest waits to own a home, until she has lots of experiences.

Kathy G - I have always owned a home also. But if we move for another job, we will not buy, we'll lease. Chasing our kids is risky - unless you don't buy, I guess.

susan said...

People looking for security and stability in ownership often learn they're mistaken. It's not unusual to hear of someone buying a nice little place only to have an unpleasant person buy the place next door.

It's also true that some people try to tie their children down by buying them a house but it's not a good way of teaching responsibility. If you didn't make your own effort to get it, the likelihood of keeping it is low.

Deboshree said...

Hey there..long time no see! Finally exams are over and I can breathe easy.
You posed a very important question in this piece(by the way I love your writing)
Yes,why do we have to own something? Human beings,more often than not, harp for security and that is what leads us to all this.
It takes a string heart and a couragous mind to go out there and be just happy anywhere. Not everyone can make a home anywhere.Not everyone has the capacity to take risks and many times, the parents unknowingly make their children that way too.
You are so right when you say that it's a different experience altogether when you travel the world.It makes living so much challenging and brings such wisdom.

Lovely post
Love
Deboshree

lolit said...

i made to believe that happiness comes fully when we are fulfilled to all what we wish to have for...but i think happiness will only come when we stop dreaming to have more.

Anthony and Emily said...

I've come to realize that my BIG house (although Beautiful) doesn't make me any happier of a person. On the contrary, I wish I weren't attached to this anchor right about now. Somebody wrote about living a simpler life, my plan exactly!! After having the nice cars and big house with fancy things, I look back at all and realize I'm not much happier and can do without it. I plan on selling my house, downsizing unneeded clutter, and finding a cozier space to spend my time. I'd rather use my resources to travel and make memories. That indeed makes me happier person!

Eva Marie said...

Happiness..that's a good quesiton.

When I was a child happiness to me was the dream that fairy tales can come true - After being through so much the last few years..it's not so much the thought of fairy tales but rather seeing my children have that dream.

Possessions, people and situations come and go, as long as I can still dream and reach for the stars..and see my children do the same...then I know I am happy.

pranksygang said...

thats is an interesting Q! But in India, every person owns a house, it becomes a prestige issue if we don't have. big or small everybody owns a house and till their death they pay home loans for that!

but according to me... house is to show your taste and its like you have a piece of earth for yourself for a period of time.
you create your own space to share your life with your loved ones and you can dwell with your memories till the end!

What makes me happy?
To live the life the way i wanted without troubling anyone and sharing my life and being a part of other's life.. is what makes me happy.. :)

pranksygang said...

and i never thought that shoes can be insured.. and your husband has said right!.. you made me laugh at that!! gr8 post.. i enjoyed a lot!

Jo said...

My husband was killed in a plane crash, and my mother-in-law, bless her heart, stole my insurance money. So I have never been able to afford to own a home, I have always been a renter. I have been in my treehouse now for 11 years, and I love it. I will probably never own a home. The thing that makes me happiest is when my family is safe and happy. My daughter and her family (thank goodness) own a beautiful home and that makes me happy.

Lori ann said...

Dear Lover, I think you are so right, you make some good points. We own our place, its modest and small with no mortgage(anymore!)Some people can't understand why we don't upgrade, want more.We spend our money on experiances and travel.For us, this is the best.
♥ lori

sk said...

Hey thats a vey thought-provoking post.Actually I'm rather inexperienced in matters of happiness, satisfaction and life in general. But I always feel happy when I crack a joke and my friends laugh, when I tell my parents about the wrong things I may have done, and especially when I ask God to forgive me my wrongs. I believe the easiest way to be happy is to have a guilt-free conscience, to love yourself!

And your post reminds me of "Gone with the wind" where Scarlett O'Hara, the protagonist, feels money and security will be all she needs to be happy, but eventually realizes she can be happy only with her love-Rhett Butler, even if she were hungry or poor.

Bye,
sk

♥ Braja said...

You hit the nail on the head; people are driven by a set of "values" that aren't values at all...and then they work the rest of their lives to maintain the illusion they bought into...none of them are happy. None. Sure, we can own things and use them, but if we think they're so important... wow....bad luck...

livenomad said...

Thanks for the post. I enjoy the way your writing makes me think about life in general and taking a step back from the business of life. I have also been trying to figure out what makes me happy. In the quest of owning things, we forget the joy in simple things. Appreciation of the little things makes me happy.

http://updateweekly.blogspot.com/

Here Under the Rainbow said...

LOL, when I am happy, I don't stop to question if I am. I just know I am. It was funny I should come across a book that makes a case for this. Eric Weiner pointed out in his book, A Geography of Bliss that we Americans overthink the question too much instead of just be. Hmm. Thinking, bad. Being, good.

There is a body of science that measures happiness, and they even pinpointed a few places in the world where it meets the criteria for being the happiness place in the world.

As you already pointed out, happiness means different things to different people, but some of the common threads are fascinating. An environment where there is tolerance, patience and trust is fertile soil for happiness.

CrazyCris said...

Hmmm... I'd have to think on this one, seems like everyone's making some valid points on both sides of the owning vs renting argument.

Personally after having dealt with several hideous landlords and the feeling of never quite being "at home" on "your own place" I'd have to go all out in favour of owning. Then again I have yet to be in the (financial) position to be able to do that myself. Nevertheless it doesn't really make sense to buy unless you're pretty sure you're going to be staying put for at least five years.. You've bought/sold 3 houses in that time LOL?! Ouch! I can't imagine the house-hunting and then selling hassle that must have been, but I know from plenty of experience that MOVING is a nightmare... and if you're doing it that frequently then you definitely don't want the added nightmare of selling your house.

My guess to the ideal solution would be rent with the option to buy sometime down the road. That way if it turns out to be the house of your dreams you just keep it! Dunno if that's possible though...

Interesting topic! But to answer the question: lots of things make me happy (spending time with family and friends, scuba diving, dancing...), but owning my home home isn't really one of them.

Y-ra K-chanz said...

hello there...
its been awhile since i visit ur site...theres a lot interesting things to share and learn...thanks...esp for improving my competency in english...:)~

neway...about ur entry...from my experience...everthing we do in our lives is all about making a choice....sound familiar rite...haha...but thats the truth...when we making the choice,of course we want it bring happiness to us but...there alot of things that we must consider...well u know...effect that the things bring to other ppl that we love...its no use that we are the only one who are happy but other ppl suffered...~erm...that all i have to say...c ya!~

Mae Lee said...

As one of those children living in a house bought by my parents, I thought I would weigh in. This post is so timely! I have been talking about all of the same things these last couple days.

The first thought I have is that a house is not an asset. It shouldn't really be something that people use as a financial comfort. As any homeowner knows, shit happens and when you are in charge, you are responsible for fixing it. That is daunting and not something to take lightly. In general, I think a person who calculates the pros and cons of homeownership based on the difference between a mortgage payment and rent will be sorely mistaken when they have to put on a new roof or the plumbing fails. Ugh. Unfortunately, these are things that my parents have had to deal with for this house and I am very thankful for these lessons I could have only learned through experience. I can only hope that this investment will work out for them when they sell.

The second thought is that owning my house does not make me happy. That is a fact. It is a pain and there are time when I wish that I wasn't dealing with house stuff so I could focus on studying. And then I laugh and realize that dealing with house stuff is so much more enjoyable than reading cases. :) But seriously, what my house allows me to have does make me happy. I couldn't have my two 80 lb puppies in a rental but they are what keep me going every day. Besides the dogs, my house give me reprieve from the stress of life and allows me to put time and thought into something that I have created. I didn't lay the bricks but with every board of flooring I install, coat of paint I apply, and every flower I plant, I feel pride and happiness in the world, the atmosphere, I have made for me and my family. That is where I think having a home and the joys that come from it must be individual. I like doing home repairs so I think of it as a timeout from law school but if I had to call someone to fix every little thing, this hunk of wood and metal siding would just be a burden.

The last thing I'll say is that although I have learned a lot in the last couple years with the house and have enjoyed settling down, I have only been able to do so because I had my freedom. I went through undergrad and lived in different houses with different roommates, both good and bad. I have also been able to travel to many countries and learn about different cultures. It is only because I have done that, that I can be pro homeownership. At least right now. So I say all of this fully knowing that I haven't fully lived the homeowner experience but it is my perspective at this point.

Well, that was a rant. Sorry it was so long but I have had this stuff on my mind. Thanks for giving me a place to express.

綜廉 said...

搬家公司,搬家,搬家公司,清潔公司,搬家,搬家公司,清潔,日本料理,清潔,清潔公司,清潔,看護中心,胎毛筆,清潔公司,會計,公司登記,公司註冊,輕鋼架,搬家公司,月子中心,搬家公司,油漆,油漆工,油漆工程,輕鋼架天花板輕隔間,搬家

公司
,搬家公司,搬家,搬家公司,清潔公司,搬家,搬家公司,清潔,日本料理,清潔,清潔公司,清潔,看護中心,胎毛筆,清潔公司,會計,輕鋼架,搬家公司,月子中心,搬家公司,油漆,輕鋼架,輕隔間,天花板,搬家公司,貨運,貨運公司,網頁設計,網頁設計,網頁排名,SEO糖果批發批發商 泡麵批發罐頭批發飲料批發禮盒批發罐頭糖果批發批發商 泡麵批發罐頭批發飲料批發禮盒批發

罐頭桌椅出租 桌椅出租 桌椅租賃桌椅椅桌椅桌出租

singer209 said...

You can fake cheerfulness, you can "BUY" happiness, but Joy is more lasting. Do you have IT?

singer209 said...

You can fake cheerfulness, you can "BUY" happiness, but Joy is more lasting. Do you have IT?